Instructional Design Training: Using the Virtual Classroom

The world of learning and development is changing and evolving at a breathtaking pace. It's not so long ago that the traditional classroom and e-learning were about the only delivery methods available to most organizations. Today, the range of options has broadened significantly to include mobile learning and the virtual classroom.

Additionally, the way we are thinking about approaching learning is changing, with blended, social and informal models of learning all becoming commonplace. To help you harness the benefits of these new mediums and approaches, there has probably never been a better time to consider taking some instructional design training.

But, if you are thinking about using new mediums for learning, what should you learn about first? In this article, we'll briefly look at one of the most popular of these new ways of learning: using the virtual classroom.

Many organizations looking at introducing virtual learning often focus on the software and the logistics of the medium. They quickly understand the benefits, the cost savings and the convenience. What they frequently tend to overlook is the skill of their trainers to both design and deliver virtual training.

Just because a trainer is superb in a traditional classroom environment, does not guarantee they will be able to transfer their abilities into the virtual classroom. Adapting to an environment where you cannot see your audience for most of the training session, would be a difficult task for even the most experienced trainer. Unless they receive significant help and the opportunity to practice extensively before going live, very skilled classroom trainers frequently struggle with this new environment when they first start using it. As well as overlooking the problems for trainers, many organizations dive into virtual learning without even fully understanding the different types of virtual event that exist.

In the first instance there is the simple web meeting. This is exactly like a face-to-face meeting where participants gather virtually to discuss issues and make decisions. From a learning perspective, this type of event could be used for coaching, mentoring and one-to-one training.

Next, is the most popular and probably most well-known virtual learning event - the webinar. This is more like an online lecture or presentation than anything else. Usually, large numbers of learners can attend this kind of event because they are in 'listen only' mode. There is no expectation that they will participate, although they might be encouraged to ask questions during the event through a chat facility - provided as part of the webinar environment.

Finally, there is the virtual classroom event. This replicates the kind of interactive, real world learning event that attendees are used to when they turn up for a traditional training course.

This is undoubtedly the hardest of all the events to pull off and the one that requires trainers to think differently and practice extensively before taking on the challenge for the first time.

Depending on the software you use to run your virtual classroom, you can split attendees into small groups or pairs and have them work in virtual breakout rooms. You can share virtual whiteboards, demonstrate applications and websites. As well as speaking to the trainer and the group, attendees can use chat functionality to communicate with the trainer, the whole group and privately with each other. They can also indicate their response to particular segments of the class by selecting and sending icons and emoticons to the trainer.

Done properly, the virtual classroom is usually a hit with learners and trainers alike. Done badly or with little preparation or thought, the virtual classroom is a disaster waiting to happen.

Andrew Jackson is co-founder of Pacific Blue, which provides a popular instructional design training programme for individuals and organisations. Learn more or receive regular instructional design hints and tips at:

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